Students delve into West Friendship's past

February 03, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Behave, children. The principal at West Friendship Elementary School wields a paddle.

That was the understanding children at the school had back in the 1950s, when the principal's job was also to check students for lice, and shave their heads if they were infested.

Those are but a few of the discoveries third-graders at the school have culled from boxes of old papers, forgotten corners of warehouses and interviews with alumni this year. When the school year concludes, the children expect to have completed the first chronicle of their school's origins and 69-year history.

"They're like little sponges, they're very eager to absorb all the information," said Susan Rhine, 47. Yesterday, she told students of her days at the school in the 1950s, noting that she never actually saw the paddle, but heard the rumors about it that floated among the very productive and obedient students.

Asked to compare the modern hands-off system of discipline with its primitive precursor, 8-year-old Zach Lehson, of West Friendship, admitted that "probably the one with the paddle would work better." He was quick to add, however, he wasn't endorsing the revival of such a policy.

The students have learned that such interviews can tell them more than just details of everyday life. They also discovered key facts about the institution itself.

"We just found out today from Mrs. Rhine that it was [grades] one through 12" when the school opened, not simply a high school as they had thought, said Carol Brzezinski, teacher of gifted and talented students doing the project.

"It brought back a lot of memories, a lot of things that I had forgotten," said Mrs. Rhine, whose son, Matthew, is a third-generation West Friendship student. "I was digging out old report cards, and I even had an old picture of the school."

The fruits of the students' labor will be put on display in the school and incorporated into a book that will be available in local libraries.

As the students have discovered, the school is even older than the building they now use.

In the early 1900s, a one-room school served the West Friendship community, although students are still trying to determine if it was on the same site as the current school.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1925, a six-room, two-story school, first through 12th grades, was dedicated. In 1951, six classrooms and a cafeteria were added to the school, followed by several small additions during the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s it was rebuilt, opening in 1978 after classes were held for two years in Lisbon Elementary.

"They used As and Bs in the old elementary, and now we used 1s, 2s and 3s," said Zach of how students' work is judged on their report cards.

Ms. Rhine managed to come up with her father-in-law's report card from the 1925-1926 school year, which included not only letter grades, but check-offs for behavior that included a column to note lapses in courtesy.

Much of the information they have uncovered has come from serious detective work, Ms. Brzezinski said.

"They get in there with their magnifying glasses, looking for clues, looking at chalkboards in photographs for dates," she said.

The biggest mystery the sleuths have yet to uncover is what happened to the weather vane that sat atop the 1925 school building.

So far, the children believe that it was stored in a Department of Education warehouse to keep its sharp points away from students.

But student life is the subject that interests the researchers most, Ms. Brzezinski said.

They discovered, for instance, that 40 years ago there was "no equipment in the playground, and the kids climbed trees and played tag," Ms. Brzezinski said.

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